The Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation

We recognize that the decision to file for divorce is not taken lightly. We attempt to make the process as easy and cost-efficient as possible for our clients.  Divorce proceedings can vary from straightforward and relatively simple, to complex cases requiring the retention of financial experts, custody mediation and extensive financial discovery and depositions.  Our lawyers will quickly identify important issues in your case and craft a case strategy to help you meet your goals.

Divorce vs Legal Separation

Divorce (Dissolution) and Legal Separation have only one primary difference: termination of the marital status.  Whether you file for either Dissolution or Legal Separation, a court will make final orders regarding the division of marital assets and debts, child custody, child support and spousal support.  A person who files for Legal Separation can always file for Dissolution at a later date if they decide to terminate the marriage.

Progression of a Divorce Case

To file for divorce, or “dissolution” in California, you must be a resident of the state for at least six months, and a resident of the county in which you seek to file for three months. However, filing for legal separation does not have such requirements. To commence an action for dissolution, a party must file the Petition for Dissolution, together with other requisite documents. The initial documents are then served on the other party, who is given time to respond.

After the initial paperwork has been filed, a case generally proceeds in one of two ways. Issues such as child custody, child support and spousal support are either actively litigated at the outset of the case, or the parties can attempt to reach agreements on these issues to avoid court proceedings. In fact, many of our cases do not involve any contested court appearances because the parties, with the help of our attorneys, are able to negotiate and reach agreement on all relevant issues. Naturally, every case is different and our attorneys will help determine what strategy will work best in your particular case.

In every divorce case, both parties are required to exchange asset, debt and income declarations. These declarations serve to ensure that each party is fully informed of all of the marital assets, debts and income streams. There can be severe legal repercussions if either party fails to fully disclose all assets or debts. If our client suspects that assets or debts are not fully being disclosed, our attorneys will generally conduct extensive financial discovery, which often involves subpoenaing financial institutions and employers.

Finalizing a Divorce Case

A divorce case ends with either a settlement or a contested trial.  If both parties are able to reach an agreement on all issues (child custody, support, division of assets and debts, etc.), our attorneys will draft a Marital Settlement Agreement, which is a comprehensive document that memorializes every settled issues.  The Marital Settlement Agreement is then signed by both parties and submitted to the court with several other documents for finalization and adoption as a court order. If a settlement cannot be reached, your case will proceed to a trial, which means that a judge or commissioner will determine each contested issue of your divorce.


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